Here's how to make a difficult situation less trying

Following the recent research by Carnegie Mellon University indicating that divorcing parents can lead to longterm ill health in children, we caught up with divorce expert Sonia Limbada from Divorce Negotiator

Specialising in providing realistic advice to keep proceedings amicable for divorcing couples, her job is to help couples reach an agreement together while avoiding the stress of court.

‘Let’s face it, as painful as divorce is, it is often hardest on the children. No matter how much we wrap them up in cotton wool, protecting them from this distressing experience is rarely possible or even practical. Over my years as a divorce expert at Divorce Negotiator, I’ve learned the harsh truth that divorce will negatively impact children in one way or another. In fact, a recent study by Carnegie Mellon University confirmed that a divorce can actually lead to longterm ill health in children.

So, what steps can we take to support them? Unfortunately, there are no magic fixes. Like all human beings, children react to situations in different ways and what is appropriate for one child may not necessarily be right for another.

Parents must be led by their children’s individuality and their ability to cope with stressful situations before they decide on the right approach. The key point to remember is that, as a parent, you can’t stop the impact of divorce on your children, you can only limit its effect.

Here are some handy tips that could help parents deal with some common issues that arise during divorce.’

Inform

‘Go and speak with your children’s school teacher and any other key staff. A simple conversation to alert them that the family is separating can help to keep your children settled in their daily school environment. Explain the set up that you have at home and what changes are expected.

It is also important to get information. Key questions to ask the teacher include: have the children displayed any change of behaviour in school? Are they still performing at the expected level? Has their concentration level dropped and how are they interacting with friends and staff?’

Document

‘No matter how much you think you have your arrangements in check, draw up a parenting agreement with your ex-partner. This will focus your mind on how the children will be cared for and will incorporate things you may not have thought of, such as who will attend parents’ evening and school plays.

When writing up an agreement, remember that it is about what is best for your children. Important things to consider are who will look after the children if the resident parent falls sick, where they will spend their school holidays and special occasions like birthdays and Christmas, what decisions the parents need to consult each other on, and how new partners will be introduced.

A parenting agreement is not set in stone and can be modified to suit changing circumstances. Try to make sure that you have the same rules in each house, as this will ensure that the children know where they stand and will stop them from playing one parent against the other.’

Reach out for help

‘Don’t wait until you’re falling apart. Arrange for a friend or child-minder to take the children out for a fun day and take time out for yourself, even if you spend the day wallowing – we are all allowed to have a bad day. You cannot take care of your children if you are not taking care of yourself.’

Talk

‘All children have different ways of dealing with their emotions. Make sure they have someone to talk to. Children often protect their parents and will not necessarily share their feelings out of fear that they may hurt them or cause them more pain.

Make it clear that they can come to you with anything, but also designate another adult that they can turn to when things get too much. Make sure they know how to contact that adult and assure them that they can have a discussion in private.

If you are the non-resident parent, it is equally important that you discuss your children’s emotions with them. However, please remember that children do not need to know everything that is going on in a divorce and it is normal to protect them from certain things.’

Plan

‘Make sure that your contact arrangements and holidays are planned in advance. Let your children know what is happening and if plans change, spin this in a positive light.

Your ex-partner may have let the children down, but telling them this doesn’t do any good. If your ex-partner is typically unreliable and you know that they are unlikely to stick to the agreed plan, always have a back-up, i.e. ‘Mum/Dad may take you out over the weekend, but if they can’t then we will go out to lunch instead’.

Ensure that the line of communication is always kept open with the other parent and never restrict contact unless the children are at genuine risk. A parenting agreement helps to keep parents focused, and a regular review of the agreement ensures that communication is open and ongoing.’

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